Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rhode Island General Assembly: Leave our care alone

05:00 PM EDT on Monday, April 19, 2010

State lawmakers once again spared their own free health-care packages — costing up to $18,061 annually — from last week’s round of state government, municipal aid and pension cuts.

Starting July 1, state employees will pay between 15 and 25 percent of the premiums for their own health, dental and vision-care packages. State lawmakers opted against voting to do the same, amid stated concerns by their Republican and Democratic leaders that voting on their own compensation packages might put them in violation of the state ethics code, a notion that has since been dispelled by the state Ethics Commission.

“Generally when a public body wants to change their own compensation structure, we tell them to go ahead and vote and implement it after the next election,” said Ethics Commission lawyer Jason Gramitt.

The issue came up in the early-morning hours of Wednesday, when the part-time lawmakers were still voting on a bill to close a projected $220-million deficit in the current budget year that ends June 30. Rep. Karen Macbeth, D-Cumberland, proposed an amendment that would have required the state’s lawmakers to pay 15 percent of the cost of their health benefits.

Many lawmakers voluntarily contribute something toward the cost of their coverage. Others do not. Here is a rundown, according to the legislative business office: In the House, those paying nothing include: Representatives Grace Diaz, Brian Kennedy, David Segal and Timothy Williamson.

Rep. Scott Pollard is paying 5 percent of the premium cost. Those paying 10 percent include: Representatives Edith Ajello, Joseph Almeida, Samuel Azzinaro, Jon Brien, Kenneth Carter, Elaine Coderre, Arthur Corvese, Steve Costantino, John DeSimone Laurence Ehrhardt, Robert Flaherty, Gordon Fox, Douglas Gablinske, Raymond Gallison, Alfred Gemma, Arthur Handy, J. Russell Jackson, Donald Lally, John Loughlin, Jan Malik, Peter Martin, Nicholas Mattiello, John McCauley, Joseph McNamara, William Murphy, Eileen Naughton, J. Patrick O’Neill, Edwin Pacheco, Peter Palumbo, Amy Rice, Deborah Ruggiero, William San Bento, John Savage, Gregory Schadone, Maryann Shallcross-Smith, Agostinho Silva, Scott Slater, Joseph Trillo, Donna Walsh, Peter Wasylyk, Robert Watson, Anastasia Williams. Sullivan has been paying 20 percent of the cost of his health insurance package since March.

Representatives David Caprio and Helio Melo are paying 15 percent, while Representatives Brian Newberry, Peter Petrarca, and Thomas Winfield are paying 20 percent.

Those accepting $2,002 waiver payments for not taking the coverage include: Representatives Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, John Carnevale, Rodney Driver, Deborah Fellella, Frank Ferri, Charlene Lima, Karen MacBeth, Mary Messier, Michael Rice, Stephen Ucci and Kenneth Vaudreuil. Those forgoing the waiver payments and coverage include: Roberto DaSilva, John Edwards, Christopher Fierro, Scott Guthrie, Joy Hearn, Robert Jacquard, Peter Kilmartin, Michael Marcello, Rene Menard and Patricia Serpa.

Rep. Joanne Giannini has asked the legislative business office to shave 10 percent off her waiver payment, MacBeth, 15 percent, and Lima 20 percent. A principal of the Leo A. Savoie School in Woonsocket, MacBeth says she donates her waiver payment to needy individuals and groups in her community.

In the Senate, four lawmakers pay nothing: Senators Leo Blais, James Doyle, John McBurney and Dominick Ruggerio.

Those paying 10 percent include Senators Frank Ciccone, Daniel Connors, Marc Cote, Elizabeth Crowley, Daniel DaPointe, Beatrice Lanzi, J. Michael Lenihan, Charles Levesque, Erin Lynch, Michael McCaffrey, Joshua Miller, M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Roger Picard, Rhode Perry, Juan Pichardo, V. Susan Sosnowski, John Tassoni and William Walaska. Those paying 20 percent include: Dennis Algiere, David Bates, Edward O’Neill, and Michael Pinga.

Senators accepting the $2,002 waiver payment include: Frank DeVall, Walter Felag, Hanna Gallo, Chrisopher Maselli, and Harold Metts. Those eschewing both the waiver payment and the coverage include: Louis DiPalma, Paul Fogarty, Maryellen Goodwin, Paul Jabour and James Sheehan. Sen. Leonidas Raptakis gave up his state health insurance on April 12, 2009, which entitles him to a pro-rated portion of the $2,002 waiver payment given legislators who forgo the coverage which, in his case, totaled $1,386 for last year.

Sen. Francis T. Maher Jr., R-Exeter, is not taking the health insurance or waiver payment.

Consequences alleged of term limits

Second thoughts anyone about term-limits?

This is what John Marion, executive director of the citizens’ advocacy group Common Cause, had to say about some of term-limited Governor Carcieri’s two Florida vacations in the last month while the state was still digging out of historic flooding and budget crises, and his creation of a nonpublic account to finance his radio ad campaigns.

“There are unintended consequences to any reform, and I think this is an example of an unintended consequence of term limits,” Marion said.

“I’m sure there were arguments at the time they were enacted that expanding the length of the term from two to four years had benefits (less campaigning, more governing).… [But] the term-limit movement that was so strong in the U.S. in the 1990s has clearly run its course, and perhaps this is an example why,” he said.

Carcieri spokeswoman Amy Kempe confirmed on Friday that the Republican governor left the night before for a week in Florida. “The governor is spending the legislative break in Florida with his family,” she said. Carcieri took heat for overseeing the state’s flood-cleanup efforts from Florida this month. In the last year of his final four-year term, he is barred by term limits from running for reelection.

A former political science teacher, Marion noted that term limits have had mixed results in states that extended them to lawmakers, including “a loss of professionalization in the ranks of legislators, and the emergence of new, young leaders such as the thirty-something speaker of the House in Maine.… It also seems to lead to more competition for higher office as people term-limit out of their current office.”

Here in Rhode Island, Marion said he didn’t think “now [was] the time to revisit term limits,” and “we should avoid making systemic changes based on the behavior of a single individual.”

Tea Partiers become State House lobbyists

Taking further steps toward becoming entrenched political players, seven members of the Rhode Island Tea Party movement have become registered State House lobbyists.

They include talk radio regular Bruno “Buddy” Tassoni, who, when spotted wearing a purple lobbying badge at an outdoor State House rally last week, said: “The Tea Party is a force to be reckoned with.” (And yes — that’s the same Tassoni of the infamous Carcieri talk-radio comment — “Amen to you, Buddy.”) Added another of the Tea Party’s registered lobbyists, Diane McLaughlin: “We are trying to become a little more formalized so we can have a little more impact.”

Indeed, the outsider group’s latest move into the established political world follows the formation of a political action committee that allows the conservative organization to begin donating money to individual candidates and making endorsements.

In addition to Tassoni and McLaughlin, the full list of lobbyists registered with the group, “Rhode Island Tea Party, Inc.,” is as follows: Maureen Kearney, Richard Langseth, Judith Gallagher, William Perry, and Kenneth Page.

Walaska opts not to run for state treasurer

State Sen. William A. Walaska, D-Warwick, has decided not to run for state treasurer this year.

Walaska, a Warwick Democrat, had been considering a run for the job held by Gen. Treas. Frank T. Caprio, a Democrat now running for governor. He plans to seek reelection instead.

Gerald M. Carbone, a Warwick Democrat who was a Providence Journal reporter for 18 years, has filed a notice with the state Board of Elections and is considering challenging Walaska for the Senate seat.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information provided by the Joint Committee on Legislative Services on the health insurance status of Rep. Raymond Sullivan, D-Coventry, and Senators Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, and and Francis T. Maher Jr., R-Exeter. Sullivan has been paying 20 percent of the cost of his health insurance package since March, not 10 percent, as the JCLS reported. Raptakis gave up his state health insurance on April 12, 2009, which entitles him to a pro-rated portion of the $2,002 waiver payment given legislators who forgo the coverage which, in his case, totaled $1,386 for last year. Maher is not taking the health insurance or waiver payment.

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